Skip to main content

Chapter Two: The Apocrypha in Rep

Mr. Damplay: We would speak with the Poet o' the day, Boy.
Boy. Sir, he is not here. (Ben Jonson, The Magnetic Lady)

Repertory, company authorship, and a sense of "Shakespeare"

Having exposed the ideologies surrounding the creation of an "apocrypha", this chapter seeks to redress the balance by examining the roles of certain disputed plays within their original textual and dramatic context. Taking five apocryphal plays that originated in the repertory of the Chamberlain's/King's Men, I argue that they participate in a wider series of strategies and concerns that necessarily and importantly interact with those of the Shakespearean corpus.

The purpose of this chapter, following important recent work on early modern repertories, is to demonstrate that the authorial canon offers us a limited and incomplete picture of the conditions in which plays were written and produced. Tracing the development of particular conflicts, motifs and debates in plays belonging to one company, but written by different authors, I argue that the shared repertory origin acts to "author" these plays in important and often overlooked ways that demand and repay sustained attention. We are quick to talk of the "Shakespeare" repertory and Shakespeare's role as a company dramatist; yet the importance of the apocryphal plays in participating to and helping to create the "Shakespearean" context has been occluded by concerns over the actual writing. It is this sense of the Shakespearean, I suggest, that contributed to the early printings and references to these plays as Shakespeare's.

Within the repertory, I am particularly interested in the development of the Prodigal/Grissel motif across a number of Shakespearean and apocryphal plays; the intersection of Shakespeare's name with points of generic development and innovation; and the ways in which the company responded both to changes in personnel/organisation and to the work of the rival theatres.

Key texts

My primary plays for this chapter are Thomas Lord Cromwell, A Yorkshire Tragedy, The London Prodigal, Mucedorus and The Merry Devil of Edmonton. Important other plays from the Chamberlain's repertory include Henry V, 2 Henry VI, Measure for Measure, All's Well that Ends Well, The Miseries of Enforced Marriage, Othello, The Merry Wives of Windsor, Philaster, Satiromastix and Twelfth Night. Other plays that bear significantly on the debates include Thomas More, When You See Me, You Know Me, Doctor Faustus, The Faithful Shepherdess and Sir John Oldcastle.

My repertory approach is heavily influenced by the work of Roslyn Knutson, Andrew Gurr, Lucy Munro, Scott McMillan and Sally-Beth MacLean in their studies of individual repertories. For the print side of this narrative, which has encouraged me to consider the "effects" and multiple meanings of an attribution rather than whether or not it is "correct", I am particularly indebted to the new philological and materialist work of scholars such as Leah Marcus, Sonia Massai, Stephen Orgel, Douglas A. Brooks and Margreta de Grazia.